Using tiny particles to realise big ideas: Prof Liu Ai Qun

As one of five pioneering graduate students from China to be accepted into a Singapore university nearly 30 years ago, Prof Liu Ai Qun of NTU’s School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering wants his research to benefit everyone living here.

His work in nanophotonics and device physics focuses on emerging infectious diseases—an area of major relevance for Singapore.

Among Prof Liu’s inventions with commercial applications is a parasitometer that uses an integrated optofluidic chip to manipulate fluids and light. The technology allows researchers to identify water-borne disease-causing agents based on bio-fingerprinting. The parasitometer is built and marketed through Water Optics Technology, a company Prof Liu founded with support from the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute at NTU and the University’s enterprise arm, NTUitive. A prototype is currently being tested in water plants in Singapore, China, Australia, Israel and the US.

Together with colleagues from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering, Prof Liu is now developing medical applications for his photonic chip technology in virus diagnostics and drug testing.

“The SARS outbreak in Singapore in 2003 was a warning,” says Prof Liu. “In a major global travel hub like Singapore, fast and highly sensitive monitoring of contagious viruses needs to be a top priority to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.”

Another of Prof Liu’s research breakthroughs is an integrated nanophotonic chip for quantum computing and quantum networks. Developed partially under a government grant of up to S$10 million (~US$7.3 million) over five years, the technology will be commercialised through a spin-off company founded by Prof Liu and his graduate students.

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